Some maps are not designed to chart geography, but to express a particular belief. One of the best collections of this “persuasive cartography” is the PJ Mode Collection at Cornell University Library, with examples dating from the 15th century to the present.
PJ Mode donated his collection to Cornell in 2014, and last year over 300 digitized maps from the PJ Mode Collection were released online in high resolution. Cornell is continuing to add to these digital holdings, which only recently have been a focus of scholarship.
Sometimes called cartographic propaganda, these maps are often contrary to everything we think a map to be: a truthful representation of the world. Yet every map is in a way subjective, with the cartographer choosing text, colors, and perspectives. Consider our standard world maps, where a three-dimensional planet is being depicted flat. Some of its size distortions date back to1 6th-century projection work by Gerardus Mercator. For instance, Africa appears smaller than Greenland on Mercator maps, when it’s actually around 14 times larger than Greenland, a distortion that has long skewed the public perception of the country. Currently, maps of the United States colored in red and blue are influencing our understanding of the current presidential campaign. Even back in the Greco-Roman World, as explored in the 2013 exhibition Measuring and Mapping Space at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, maps were employed to plot a shape of the world that could be controlled, and emphasize the size of the Empire.
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Featured Image – Kisaburō Ohara, “A Humorous Diplomatic Atlas of Europe and Asia” with Russia as an octopus (1904) (courtesy the PJ Mode Collection)